A Day With the Porsche 912 - Can it Convert Me into a Porsche Fan?

After years of not being a Porsche guy, I decided I should take a look back at the roots of the 911 to see what I could learn about the brand.

2w ago

I am not, and have never been, a Porsche guy. From the time I was old enough to know what a car was, the Italians and big American barges have had my heart. Over the years though, I’ve managed to find myself behind the wheel of a few GT3s, a 964 Turbo, the Taycan Turbo S, and a few others as well as in the passenger seat of a 918 Spyder with a madman behind wheel. While I’ve only ever been truly disappointed by the original V6 Panamera, I never found myself pining for any of the Porsches I’ve driven after giving them back. With that in mind, I thought it was about time I tried to figure out what it is that makes people fall so madly in love with them so I hopped on DriveShare and found myself a 1969 912 to see if going back to the beginnings of the 911 might give me a little insight.

For those not familiar with Porsche history, the 911 and 912 were replacements for the iconic “bathtub” 356 of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Originally these cars were to be called the 901 and 902 but Peugeot felt that having three numbers with a zero as the second digit was their signature and would be confusing to people. Thus, the models were renamed 911 and 912. The 912 featured a 1.6L four-cylinder engine and a much smaller price tag than the 911, the logic being that the price spike from the outgoing 356 to the flat six powered 911 would be problematic to potential buyers and would cost sales.

After picking up the 912 from its owner, I rather quickly threw the two things at it that I feared it would perform worst at – open highway and steep inclines. Between the owner’s home and my own, there is a small highway through the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles that crosses over two very large suspension bridges. Given that the 912’s engine only produced 100 horsepower when new, I was less than excited at that prospect. However, with a bit of carried momentum and enough revs the little Porsche cleared those obstacles without much trouble. After a quick photo shoot down at the port, the 912 was given a night’s respite before the events of the coming morning.

In order to give the 912 a proper test, I thought I should do what most owners would do on a Sunday morning – call up a couple classic car enthusiasts and go for a bit of a drive. So, at the bright and early hour of 10:37 am, our little convoy set off our drive. We started with a nice cruise up the coast before looping back inland and finishing up with a little jaunt through my favorite set of twisty roads. During that drive, the 912 began showing me its inner charms. It may not have been the quickest or the most comfortable of our trio, but I know my smile was just as wide as the others’.

The 912 has gone back to its owner now, leaving me to ruminate on the day I spent with it. Typically in my reviews I start with my thoughts on the exterior then the interior of the car so I think that’s a good place to start. The 912 shares its body with the 911, which is one of the most iconic and recognizable cars ever built. Personally, I think these early cars and the whale tail cars of the 1980s are the best looking of the bunch and the addition of the 911 chrome trim pieces on this particular 912 made it look all the better. On the inside, there’s about as little as one would expect from a car that weighs less than 2200 lbs. However, the seats are quite comfortable and despite being a larger chap I didn’t find myself wanting for room. The token rear seats are a nice touch for those with younger children, but putting anyone over the age of 12 in them would just be mean – the space is much better used with the seats down acting as a parcel shelf for items you don’t want to shove in the front trunk.

Of course, with any Porsche the real question is in the driving experience – does it drive like a Porsche should? Even though it is laughably down on power, I’d have to say that it does. The steering is taught and responsive and the handling isn’t limited by the suspension and platform, but by the large sidewalls on the tires. The feel from the brake pedal is incredibly stiff since there is no power assistance, but even when I was driving it as a Porsche should be driven, I never felt worried I wouldn’t stop in time. The only detraction for me was the gearbox. The box is extremely narrow, making it extremely easy to mis-shift and grab the wrong gear, which can be really problematic when you’re accelerating in a 100 hp car and end up skipping two gears and lugging the hell out of the motor. I did almost 100 miles in the 912 and I was still having trouble with it, which is the longest learning curve I’ve ever had in a car – including when I was learning to operate a manual transmission (something I did at a Hagerty event that included Wayne Carini helping teach me in his 1948 Davis Divan). The owner tells me that it is just a really long learning curve, though, and I suspect he’s correct about that. I will also mention that having a clutch that hinges from below was also a bit strange after so many years of being used to top hinged clutch pedals, but that didn’t take long to get used to.

Overall, I found the 912 to be an utterly charming car that for the first time with a Porsche I was sad to give back. While I can’t say it has converted me into a Porsche-phile, I think it has finally shed some light onto why it is that I can’t seem to fall in love with Porsches like others can. Simply put, it’s that their cars are too perfect – too polished. The first time I drove a GT3 I was on an autocross that I also took a Ferrari F430 Spider and a Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 around and for some reason even though I was significantly faster in the Porsche, I enjoyed the Italians far more. Now I understand why – they were compromised. If I was fast in the Ferrari or the Lamborghini it was because I as the driver was fast, it was because I managed to wrestle them around and make them perform. With the GT3, as well as any other modern Porsche, the engineers in Germany have done such amazing work that even the biggest oaf on the planet could make the car go quickly.

The owner described the 912 as “honest” when I gave it back to him, and I don’t think there’s a better way to describe it. Yes, it has a bunch of quirks. Yes, it’s flawed. Yes, it’s much harder to drive than a modern Porsche. But when you sum all those things up, you end up with an equation for a huge amount of satisfaction when you finally manage to start getting it all right and driving the 912 as it was built to be driven.

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Comments (13)

  • I owned a 67, 912 for ten years until I screwed up my left knee and couldn’t shift anymore. I rebuilt the engine with a 1.8 big bore kit, Weber 48 WDF’s , Alison electric ignition. At the time, you could still get Leaded premium gas and 105 octane boost. Would drive from Reno to SF every other weekend. 218 miles in 2.5 hours. Get fun. Loved that car. Even though she was a bitch sometimes.

      10 days ago
    • Great fun!! That’s what I meant to say.

        10 days ago
    • It certainly sounds like it would be - the extra power from those modifications would definitely be a great improvement in the 912. And as for older cars being a bit of a bitch a times, isn't that part of the fun?

      Shame about your knee - sadly a...

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        9 days ago
  • A very enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing! Cheers!

      14 days ago
  • Just curious since the 918 is my dream car: what was it like? Was it a Weisich Package?

      15 days ago
    • It was a Weissach package, yes. As I mentioned I was in the passenger seat but even from there it was incredibly fast - I honestly thought people were exaggerating when they talked about the speed. They weren’t.

        15 days ago
  • The 912 and early 911, along with the 930, 356 and to some extent the 914 and 924 are cars which get under your skin. With the exception of the 6-cyl cars, they’re not quick but they are beautifully balanced, quirky in a “Porsche” way and don’t fail to make you smile.

    A low powered car on narrow tyres that handles well will put a massive grin on your face when you get it right and you won’t be going at lightening speed if it goes wrong.

    These are the cars that you park up, lock, walk away from and can’t help but take a look back over your shoulder at them.

    I totally understand why you wouldn’t be in love with modern Porsche. They are undoubted expensive and rapid machines but it’s these early cars that just scream Porsche as Ferdinand intended them to.

      16 days ago
    • I think your point about being at lightning speed is a really important one - I've been lucky to be able to rip some modern supercars, but lately I've really been coming to like the older sports and super cars because I feel like I can use every...

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        16 days ago
  • RE on the GT3: Depends on what gearbox there was in the car. If you're focused on lap times and going fast, then the PDK is best suited for that. However for the ample amounts of driver engagement, the manual just can't be beat. You felt like you were going faster in the Porsche because you were focused on getting speed out of it, but if you went onto the beautiful passing roads in the mountains to explore the GT3, that is where you can best understand the car. Just my take. Perhaps, if you get the chance, you'd want to take another GT3 for a spin...

      16 days ago
    • I think a manual GT3 would definitely be an interesting experience for sure - definitely more fun than the PDK 991s I've driven. I think the larger point though is that the GT3 was too polished and too precise more my tastes - it just didn't feel...

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        16 days ago
    • Yeah, and to add to that, the PDK is basically a bit computerized and the PDK's aim is for more precise shifts and to be polished on the track. The manual is where you'll for sure feel the sheer connection, communication, and engagement....

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        16 days ago